26 September 2023

For the sake of APS and government integrity, Pezzullo can't return

| Chris Johnson
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Michael pezzullo

Michael Pezzullo has been forced to step aside from his role while under investigation. Photo: IPAA

It’s hard to see how Mike Pezzullo can return to the job from which he has just been made to step aside.

And neither should he.

There is no coming back from allegations – and some pretty compelling evidence – of behaviour so unbecoming of a departmental secretary that it’s jaw-dropping.

It’s long been known that the Home Affairs secretary operates somewhat uniquely, but this is more than odd behaviour.

This is behaviour that undermines the integrity of the entire Australian Public Service.

Since winning government last year, Labor has made a lot of noise about demanding integrity from the APS. About having a public sector adhering to the highest of standards. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has talked about it, and Public Service Minister Katy Gallagher never misses an opportunity to raise the issue of an APS committed to ‘integrity’.

In the wake of the Robodebt disgrace and the continuing PwC scandal, demands for integrity from the government workforce are not only a good look but an essential reminder worth repeating often.

READ ALSO Home Affairs boss Pezzullo stood aside over texts to Liberal powerbroker

The new(ish) APS Commissioner Gordon de Brouwer highlighted integrity as a priority from the moment he took up the appointment.

Indeed, he was the secretary for Public Sector Reform immediately before stepping into his current role.

The government has even taken steps to include ‘stewardship’ as an APS value.

One of the earliest public service-related things it did was to introduce legislation to that effect.

Now an obvious opportunity presents itself for the government to show just how committed it is to demanding the highest standard of integrity from the public service because nothing about a thousand texts over five years between Pezzullo and Liberal Party powerbroker Scott Briggs comes anything close to remotely resembling integrity.

A department secretary lobbying a lobbyist over a right-wing agenda is anything but integrity on display.

It’s the exact opposite of integrity.

Leaked encrypted texts between Pezzullo and Briggs show the lengths the secretary went to to get right-wing ministers installed into office – even over his own department.

They show how the pair tried to influence government policy – even in the Home Affairs portfolio – and entrench a conservative mindset across government.

They reveal a complete disrespect for parliamentary procedures, a free media and cabinet ministers who don’t fit their view of the world.

READ ALSO Audit committee refers former minister Stuart Robert to National Anti-Corruption Commission

To be clear, this would be just as offensive if a department secretary used contacts close to the government of the day to push a left-wing agenda.

It’s offensive because public servants are obliged to be apolitical, and the top echelons of the APS even more so.

The leaked texts reveal an eager and politically biased operator prepared to disregard the independence of the public service and the foundations of the Westminster system Australia’s government operates under to pursue an agenda that suits himself.

There has been plenty of commentary since a Nine News investigation broke this story, including calls for Pezzullo to be permanently dismissed.

Community and Public Sector Union national secretary Melissa Donnelly perhaps put the best context around it regarding the wider public service and the expectations of impartiality.

“APS employees can face disciplinary action for sharing political content on social media, so it is astounding to learn that one of our country’s most senior public servants has been sharing a political hitlist with a known Liberal Party operative,” Ms Donnelly said.

“Mike Pezzullo’s position as Secretary of the Department of Home Affairs is clearly untenable.”

I concur.

Pezzullo can’t be allowed to return to that office or any other senior public sector role.

The only thing that could save his reputation would be if the text messages were shown to be fake – and that’s not going to happen.

If the APSC’s investigation of this matter goes lightly on one of its own, then this government should stop talking about integrity because no one will be listening if Pezzullo is cleared.

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This egotistical megalomaniac must go. The only positive in this sorry saga is the man’s reputation is ruined. Every time his name is mentioned in the future it will be associated with dishonesty and underhanded impropriety. All of his achievements and positive legacy will mean nothing. This is a good case study in the lessons of hubris.

HiddenDragon9:04 pm 26 Sep 23

“Since winning government last year, Labor has made a lot of noise about demanding integrity from the APS.”

The already apparent gap between rhetoric and reality regarding probity and process by this government does leave the door ever so slightly ajar, but the revelations thus far are so juicy that the door will surely be shut and deadlocked after going through the motions of an inquiry.

Add to that the irresistible temptation of grievously wounding a likely choice for head of PM&C in the event of a miraculous Coalition win in the next election, and noting also the effort which the then Opposition put into besmirching Morrison’s head of PM&C.

superdog is quite right – this is not just a one-off by a single rogue Secretary. Ever since Max (the Axe) Moore-Wilton was let loose on the APS, there has been a steady decline into the sewers. So many rorts, so many scandals of which Robodebt was just one, caused by the changes brought in by Howard and Co.

When the PwC scandal broke, I said then that it was just the tip of the iceberg, and so it proved.

Another really big one still to hit is the rorting of the NDIS and all the toothless regulators who are just standing back and doing absolutely nothing, and saying “nothing to see here”. The NDIS rorts, many by organised crime families and gangs, are yet another example of the diminishing standards at the higher echelons of the APS, despite the good work done by so many committed public servants.

If I was the PM, I’d have given him the job of dismantling Home Affairs, then fired him.

If people don’t think this type of thing happens across the ENTIRE senior executive of the public service then they’re blind. There needs to be independent oversight of these positions for the exact reasons outlined in this article. Jobs for mates, political influence, collusion with suppliers are just some of the things I have zero doubt go on. Secretary’s ‘earn’ hundreds of thousands of dollars (some up to $900k per annum) not to mention all the perks and added benefits and yet have zero oversight. It’s a joke.

Impossible for him to return to his role, given that he’s clearly demonstrated that he’s not fit for a top security clearance.

He would fit right in at PwC, but should be prevented from capitalising on knowledge gained within Home Affairs for security reasons!

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